Edinburgh Fringe 2012
“Presidential Suite”, is a play by B & G Productions that looks at the private conversations that may have taken place in a political sex scandal similar to the sexual assault charges faced by International Monetary Fund economist, Dominic Strauss-Kahn. Written and directed by the American John Binkley, this political thriller imagines the verbal subterfuge that could have taken place between the financially comfortable accused, his wife, and his experienced lawyer then juxtaposes it against the diminutive accuser and her green prosecutor. The play edges up the ladder of tension as underhand dealing and scheming prepares to go to a battle with one woman’s ability to hold her nerve.
The drama begins with a conversation between a hotel chambermaid, Hermione St.Cloud and her lawyer. She slowly outlines the turn of events that lead to her present predicament; she is angry, disgusted and bitter. The young lawyer, Elizabeth Granger, advises her that they have a strong case; if she is prepared to stay focussed she believes they will be triumphant in court. Swiftly we cut to Richard Chataigne, a wealthy and powerful international economist. He is talking to his lawyer and explaining his version of events. It differs greatly to what we have heard from St.Cloud. The lawyer, Jordan Pershing, is renowned for his success in winning high profile libel cases and he quizzes his client, at all times diplomatic though clearly not believing all the answers he’s being given. His next move is to meet Chataigne’s wife.
The long suffering Madame Chataigne is a typically rich and spoilt, it’s her families money that allows her husband to participate in the international playground. She is more concerned in making this whole mess disappear than the rights of the chambermaid and her husband’s obscene behaviour. She conspires with the lawyer to firstly cast aspersions on St. Clouds reputation and honesty with some carefully placed stories in the press and plan B, if needs be, to offer the woman a bribe. Granger and Pershing know they must ascertain the skill level of their legal opponent. The elderly Pershing tries to intimidate Granger by revealing personal facts showing he has researched her and that he has played and won in this field many a time. But Granger shows an excellent poker face and wins the first round by flattering him and remaining silent whilst he blows hot air around her.
Granger holds on tight to her client, warning of the inevitable imminent bribe and the defence’s ability to avoid the obstruction of justice charge. The maid begins to get cold feet- the press stories are placing too much stress on her home life. They are horrifically inflated and sexually detailed. In addition, Chataigne’s people clandestinely offer a staggering amount of money and although neither legal team are privy to the other’s discussions, they are both aware of the rules of the game. The defence can smell blood here and they see light at the end of the tunnel. It is here that Granger plays a card that has the potential to greatly influence the outcome.
This is a gripping piece of theatre that had me on the edge of my seat. It’s all played out on a simple set of black background and two black chairs, there are three entrance points and the dialogue takes place as if the cast are in a tag team. The starkness and intimacy of the set enhances the feeling of being a fly on the wall and the cast are more than superbly convincing in their roles. The two lawyers, played by Liza Binkley and Seamus Newham, are opposing in personality. Newham swaggers around the stage with that world weary confidence of having played the dirty game for a long time. Binkley is slender, bright eyed and fresh to the game, full of integrity. The Chataigne’s both project that arrogant complacency which oozes from the super rich, the ability to buy anything and anyone to their schedule. Richard Chataigne, Benjamin Feitelson, is self absorbed and indifferent to anyone’s feelings. He projects a swagger of confidence fully believing that his wife will pay and then his lawyer will connive and he will return to being a playboy. His wife, Sally Knvette, is shameless in her obvious irritation at this interference in her life. There is clearly no real love between the two just an acceptance of who they are; she’s prepared to pay just to keep everything normal. Knvette’s character crosses paths with the chambermaid and she shows herself to be a true grotesque. Vanessa Donovan is solid as the chambermaid, Hermione St.Cloud. She proves herself to be more than a domestic worker, possessing the acumen to study psychology and Donovan gives the character real depth.
They are a proficient cast and this is a well written piece of work. The pace is biting and the direction, though simple, shows its profundity as the play progresses with the exits, entrances and dialogue accelerate raising the tension. It’s a truly intelligent and believable piece of theatre.